The average appeal processing time for social welfare payments in 2015 was almost six months (25.7 weeks) for an oral hearing and over four months (18.2 weeks) for a summary decision according to information received through a parliamentary question tabled by Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Social Protection Willie O’Dea.

Commenting on the data Deputy O’Dea said: “The waiting times for processing appeals is unacceptably high when you consider that some people are waiting for six months or more for a decision to be made on their appeal and whether they are entitled to a social welfare payment.

“The average waiting time for summary decision on Carers Allowance is almost 21 weeks, while the waiting times for Illness Benefit and the State Pension (Contributory) are approximately 26 weeks.

“When you consider that these are vital payments, the length of time a person is awaiting a decision is hugely important.  The waiting time can have significant financial repercussions for the applicant, putting many at risk of poverty while awaiting the outcome of a decision.  When you consider that 1,233 applicants were awarded the Carer’s Allowance on appeal in 2015 and 3,102 applicants were awarded Disability Allowance on appeal in the same period it shows the need to reform the system.

“I and the Fianna Fáil party are acutely aware of the distress that awaiting the outcome of a decision can cause, that is why I have proposed to reform the application process for carer and disability payments.  Currently, eligibility for Disability Allowance depends on capacity to work.  However, decisions are made based mainly on a medical assessment.  This does not, in itself, give an accurate assessment of a person’s capacity to work in many cases.  We are proposing to give people an opportunity to describe how their disability impacts on their daily life.  Furthermore, we are proposing that the Social Welfare Appeals Office should be placed on a statutory independent footing to ensure perceived and actual independence from the Department of Social Protection.  All actions and decisions taken by Appeals Office should comply with national and international human rights standards.

“The Department of Social Protection is supposed to provide a safety net for people, but it is failing many people in that regard.  The system needs to be reformed so that it can better respond to the needs of the people it is supposed to serve.”